It was when she was just seven years old that Sophie Cook realised that something wasn’t quite right.
‘We were on a family holiday and I got the kids to call me Jenny all week,’ she recalls, ‘but of course back then in the late ’70s, we had no internet, I had no idea what was wrong with me, just that there was something wrong with me and I didn’t know what.
‘I had no frame of reference to even come close to explaining what was going on.’
Now Sophie is using her own life experience as the basis of a new career as a transformational speaker, and she’ll be speaking at The Edge of the Wedge on January 19.
The 48-year-old has certainly had a busy life, and it has often been in very male-dominated worlds. She joined the RAF straight out of school to become a jet engine technician, before heading to the Middle East for seven years where she was a motocross rider.
Throughout this time, Sophie – then Steve – struggled with her true identity: ‘It was difficult and it was something I went through great guilt over, and fear.
‘I was constantly scared of who I was, scared of people finding out, and it was really, really difficult, and as I got older it got worse and worse.
‘I originally started to transition in 2000, but then my son was born and he was disabled. And I thought ‘‘I can’t do this to the family at the same time as we’re dealing with his issues’’.
‘What I did was, I murdered Sophie and buried her in a box, and forgot about her for 15 years. As you can imagine that caused me immense emotional damage.
‘It was a very dark period for me.’
Sophie’s day job is as AFC Bournemouth’s photographer, and it was returning from a match that she had an epiphany: ‘It was this time last year, I was sat in a Travelodge in Bradford after we played Leeds Utd, I suddenly twigged, that’s why you hate yourself so much. You’ve got to fix this, because it’s killing you, so I started getting things in place to transition.’
Although transgender issues are becoming more commonplace in the mainstream through TV shows like Transparent and Boy Meets Girl and high-profile cases like Caitlyn Jenner, Sophie says: ‘It’s not all of a sudden like there’s a lot more transgender people out there, but they’ve had to hide for their own safety. And what’s happened is that culturally society has become more open to diversity.
‘There’s still a lot of fear and bigotry out there, but there are increasingly more positive examples of the transgender experience out there. It’s very important for me that for the people still struggling to come to terms with it, that there is some good news out there for them.’
And although Sophie’s story may be an unusual one, she believes it can speak to everyone: ‘Everyone has fears in their everyday life – whether it’s of losing their job, losing their partner, fear of success, fear of failure, fear of not being loved. We all carry fear and in one way or another it holds us back from reaching our potential. It’s about facing up to that fear and those challenges and saying: “I can do this, I will do this”.
‘Although my story is quite specific, it’s the idea about how we can face up to these things. Everybody has these issues.’